The US has named 18 Russians it has blacklisted for involvement in the case of the late human rights lawyer Sergei Magnitsky or other human rights violations, in a move that could further strain relations between the two countries.
The list includes 16 people directly related to the case of the Russian whistleblower Magnitsky, who died in his jail cell in 2009, as well as two others, a senior State Department official, who did not want to be named, said on Friday.
Those named on the list will be subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the US under the Sergei Magnitsky Act – law passed by Congress last year.
One US legislator said the list was “timid” with “significant omissions”, while a senior Russian legislator said he thought President Barack Obama had done the minimum possible under the law so as not to worsen ties with Moscow.
The government said the group was barred from travelling to the US under the Act, their US assets had been under Treasury sanctions and Americans are banned from doing business with them.
“The 2009 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pretrial detention in Moscow was a tragedy, and the investigation into his death has yielded no visible result,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“Russian officials implicated directly in Magnitsky’s imprisonment and prison officials directly involved in decisions that led to his death remain unpunished.”
The release of names previously kept secret came as Washington presses Moscow over Magnitsky, who died after 11 months in Russian jails.
Magnitsky was detained after he exposed alleged massive theft of state assets by Russian officials.
Also on the list was a Chechen, Kazbek Dukuzov, who was arrested, tried and exonerated in the 2004 murder of US journalist Paul Klebikov in Moscow.
Moscow condemned the publication of the names, warning that it would further poison bilateral relations.
“This move will just inject more bad blood into Russian-American relations that have already become complicated recently,” an official at the foreign ministry told the Interfax news agency on condition of anonymity.
The official warned that the publication of the list “will lead to similar measures on Russia’s part” and added: “Responsibility for the consequences lies squarely with the American side.”
The White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon was scheduled to visit Moscow within days for talks with the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev.
Earlier, Moscow had threatened to retaliate with its own public blacklist.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the US move could leave lasting damage on future ties between the two former Cold War foes.
“The appearance of some lists will unquestionably have a very negative impact on Russian-US bilateral relations,” news agencies quoted him as saying.
An unnamed Russian source told the ITAR-TASS news agency that Moscow’s counter-measures would be “symmetrical” and should be expected by Saturday.
Moscow reacted with anger when the Magnitsky Act was passed last year by US legislators keen to increase pressure on Moscow over the case.
In retaliation, Russia’s parliament agreed legislation barring American families from adopting Russian children.
The Russian foreign ministry has since drawn up its own blacklist of US officials alleged to have committed human rights violations.
A former senior US commander at the Guantanamo base in Cuba, where the United States keeps terror suspects, has already been denied entry by Moscow.